Backlash Over Arkham’s Intelligence Platform Highlights Blockchains’ Double-Edged Sword
Analytics Platform Sparked Criticism After Announcing a Program to Incentivize Unmasking Blockchain Users
By: Jeremy Nation •Crypto News
Data analytics firm Arkham Intelligence recently announced an incentive program for researchers to provide information on crypto addresses and transactions. The debate that followed raises the question: Should blockchains be “deanonymized,” as Arkham’s own website claims?
Arkham said Monday that ARKM tokens it will issue via Binance Launchpad will act as the native asset for Intel Exchange, a protocol that would allow users to anonymously trade data on blockchain wallet address owners.
Some in the crypto community interpreted the move as a way to encourage users to snitch on each other, and claimed Arkham was affiliated with US government agencies.
Joining The Defiant’s weekly livestream, Arkham Intelligence CEO Miguel Morel said that the marketplace reveal made “a big splash” and called it a massive success as he noted, “This week alone, we gained more users than we had in the entire seven months of our beta program.”
“All of the […] jumping to conclusions and speculation about the negative externalities of the Arkham intel exchange are not real,” said Morel.
A guideline Morel referenced, published on Twitter by Arkham, specifies that the platform prohibits the publication of private data, physical addresses or phone numbers, posts constituting acts of revenge or harassment, data irrelevant to on-chain activity, or unverifiable information.
In terms of how the platform could potentially be used to invade user privacy, “the reality is that the answer is significantly more nuanced,” said Morel.
It’s fair to expect that information pertaining to the identity of bad actors whose malicious activity can be tracked through publicly verifiable channels should be revealed in order to protect users, according to Morel.
However, good actors in the ecosystem deserve protection, said Morel.
“If somebody is doing good, you should not do that,” said Morel. He added. “You need to apply some nuance, and you need to think [...] very carefully about what sort of information should be allowed on versus not.”
“It really just comes down to, is it in the public interest?” said Morel.
Arkham filters out submissions to prevent guideline violations. If private information about an individual is published elsewhere to exploit platform loopholes and reveal someone’s identity, the team would categorize it as harassment, said Morel. Consequently, such submissions would be disqualified as they contravene the exchange guidelines.
However, for complicated cases, such as one where a bounty has been offered for a large whale and the individual is not a large institution, but instead a “completely normal person,” according to Morel, Arkham would “defer away from making a decision.”
Instead, the community would decide via vote whether to reveal the information via a governance proposal.
“It's up to the crypto community as a whole to make a decision about whether or not it's in the public interest for that information to be revealed,” said Morel.
Arkham said in a statement it does not offer a “dox-to-earn” service.
“An inability to monetize on-chain research conducted as a public good is a major obstacle to increased transparency, which the Intel Exchange is designed to overcome,” said Arkham. “You can't exchange off-chain personal information like addresses or phone numbers on the Intel Exchange.”
The firm denied any affiliation with government agencies and said it never sells user data.
But Morel acknowledged in a statement that the referral links included a Base64 encoded version of each referrer's email, which can be easily decrypted. He said that Arkham should have implemented a change before an exponential increase in the platform’s user base, and admitted, “We aren’t perfect.”
Arkham has updated its referral program with more robust encryption around user emails to ensure they are no longer exposed.
Former core Ethereum development liaison Hudson Jameson is one of the community members who called the program “snitch-to-earn”, but said that it could be “useful as a decentralized whistleblowing dapp for the public good.”
“Inevitably, there are going to be data exchanges that will benefit from the disintermediation qualities of blockchains,” Jameson told The Defiant. “A decentralized whistleblowing platform that incentivizes and protects those who want to submit leaks to be subversive against powerful companies and governments is a good thing.”
And some researchers were thrilled.
“Suddenly, the years I've spent on-chain and the hundreds of addresses I've labeled acquired liquid value,” wrote Twitter user egornomic.
Others weren’t so positive. AloeHQ CEO Alex Pruden wondered what might happen if real-time purchases could be used to geo-locate someone, or if a hacker could see exactly how much an account held.
“Creating a surveillance marketplace doesn't make #Web3 safer. Instead, it makes it far more dangerous,” said Pruden.
On-Chain Intelligence Marketplace
The protocol operates by way of a bounty mechanism that allows anyone to put a price tag on identifying the owner of any given wallet address. Information sold in this way would remain exclusive to the bounty issuer for a 90 period before becoming publicly available to all, according to Arkham.
Arkham would vet the information to avoid cases of fraud, poor quality submissions, or spam entries, and subject bounty hunters who must meet minimal staking parameters to slashing conditions if entries fail to meet platform standards.
Powering the Intel Exchange protocol is the ARKM token. Some 50M ARKM tokens, or 5% of the total supply, went on sale on the Binance Launchpad on July 11.